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UK airport expansions

Whilst some airports have put their expansion plans on hold following record drops in air travel and uncertainty about the pace and scale of a recovery from the pandemic, other airports are continuing to press ahead with their plans. 

Airport expansion can have local and global impacts. This page provides a summary of those expansion plans that will have significant impacts in terms of the campaign focus on climate change. We endeavour to update this page as and when we become aware of new airport planning applications or changes to existing applications. If you are concerned about expansion at your local airport and would like information about existing campaign groups in your area, please get in touch with us at info@aef.org.uk.

Last updated: April 2021

The following airports have submitted formal applications to expand:

Bristol

In March 2020, North Somerset Council’s Planning and Regulatory Committee confirmed their decision to refuse permission for Bristol Airport’s expansion plans. The application to expand Bristol Airport was initially rejected by councillors on 10th February 2020 on the grounds that the proposed 20% increase in capacity (from 10 to 12 million passengers per annum) would be harmful to the environment, including the climate. This decision went against planning officers’ recommendations, so had to be ratified by the committee (which took place in March 2020). The airport announced in August 2020 that it would appeal the decision. In December 2020, it submitted further documentation in support of its appeal. North Somerset Council’s public consultation on the amended Environmental Statement closed on 6th January 2021 and comments have been passed on to the Planning Inspectorate to be considered as part of the appeal process which began on 11th January. The public inquiry will open on 20th July 2021 and is scheduled to sit for 16 days. 

Heathrow 

In February 2020, the Court of Appeal ruled that government policy in support of Heathrow’s expansion was unlawful because it had failed to take into account the Paris Agreement on climate change. Heathrow was given permission to challenge this ruling (after the Government decided not to appeal), and the Supreme Court heard the case on 7th and 8th October 2020 (for case details and to watch a recording of the proceedings, click here). Friends of the Earth and Plan B defended the decision and you can read FoE’s arguments here. The Supreme Court’s verdict, delivered on 16th December, ruled in favour of the airport, overturning the Appeal Court’s decision on the basis that the Government had, in the judges’ opinion, taken the Paris Agreement into account. The ruling reinstates the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS). If Heathrow decides to proceed with its plans for a new runway, the next stage will require the submission of an application for a Development Consent Order. 

Leeds Bradford

In May 2020, Leeds Bradford Airport submitted a full application for a new terminal with the aim of almost doubling its passenger numbers by 2030 (from four million passengers per annum to seven million). Scientists at Leeds University have said that the expansion would “make it impossible for Leeds to meet its net zero target” in 2030. And government environment advisors Natural England have said that the plans should not be approved “unless further evidence on the potential impacts is provided”. Campaign group GALBA successfully raised funds to seek advice from legal, planning and economics experts to provide a detailed response to the airport’s planning application. On 11th February 2021, Leeds City Council approved the airport’s plans in principle, subject to additional conditions still to be negotiated. GALBA has written to the Secretary of State to request that the application be called-in, and is raising further funds to potentially challenge the decision in the courts. 

Manston

In July 2020, the Government gave permission for Manston Airport to open as a freight hub. Approval of the Development Consent Order (the first for a UK airport) went against the advice of the Examining Authority, which had concluded that “the airport will damage the local economy and impact negatively on the UK’s carbon budget and our commitments to the Paris Agreement”. Chair of Ramsgate Coastal Community Team, Jenny Dawes, successfully applied for a judicial review of the decision, which was scheduled to be heard by the High Court on 16th and 17th February 2021. On 2nd December, it was announced that the Government accepted it had not provided reasons for overturning the Examining Authority’s recommendations and would not be contesting the case. In February 2021, the High Court issued an order quashing the Government’s decision to approve the freight hub, the first time a DCO has been successfully challenged. The Government will now have to determine the application again.

For AEF’s analysis of the Government’s decision, please click here.

Southampton

In 2019, Southampton Airport submitted a planning application to Eastleigh Borough Council to extend its runway by 164 metres. A second public consultation concluded in September 2020, after respondents raised concerns over the environmental and noise impacts of extending the runway by 164m in response to the first consultation in 2019. The period for public comment on the planning application closed in November and Eastleigh Borough Council’s planning committee was due to consider the application in December 2020. This date was postponed to 2021 at the request of the airport so that it could submit additional information for the planning committee to consider. The planning application was rejected by Eastleigh Local Area Committee on 26th March 2021 after a meeting that lasted almost 17 hours. The plans to extend the airport’s runway were approved at a full council meeting that took place between 8th and 9th April.

Stansted

In January 2020 Uttlesford District Council rejected the airport’s application to increase capacity to 43 million passengers a year, citing environmental reasons. Following the airport’s decision in July 2020 to appeal the decision, a public inquiry hearing was held between 12th January 2021 and 12th March 2021. The Inspectors are currently reviewing the evidence and formulating their recommendations to the Secretary of State. Inquiry documentation can be read here, and recordings of the inquiry are available to watch here.


Airports planning for significant growth in the future:

Gatwick

In July 2019, Gatwick Airport published its master plan setting out its intention to progress detailed design and development work to bring the existing standby runway into regular use alongside the main runway, while continuing to safeguard land for an additional runway to the south. Growth projections underpinning the master plan suggest that use of the standby runway could see passenger numbers grow to 70 million passengers per annum (mppa) by 2032/33, potentially reaching 95 million passengers per annum if a new runway is pursued. In May 2020, the airport announced that it will be proceeding with its plans for the  emergency runway, with a public consultation expected in 2021. The airport is aiming for a planning decision in 2023.

Read AEF’s analysis of the carbon impacts associated with Gatwick expansion here.

London City

Earlier plans to increase the size of the airport’s terminal to handle 6.5 million passengers a year by 2023 will not be pursued at this time, London City announced in August 2020. 

Luton

In June 2020, London Luton Airport announced that it would not be submitting an expansion proposal to the Government at this time. A revised bid to increase the airport’s capacity from 18 million passengers per year to 32 million was expected to be made in 2021. Meanwhile, on 11th January 2021, the airport submitted a planning application to increase its capacity from 18 to 19 million passengers per year. Public consultation on this application closed on 17th February 2021.